Holiday Recipe: Roast Squash with Maple-Sage Dressing

Long Live Squash! My farming relatives had a bumper crop of squash this year, and we’ve been experimenting with squash recipes for weeks. I’m hoping this recipe will appear in my cookbook (out next year) and would love your thoughts!

 

Equipment: 1 baking dish or roasting pan, grater, blender
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 to 40 minutes
Servings: 4 adult servings

This is a great dish to make for babies who are transitioning to more solid foods, but who aren’t really ready to chew hard foods or chunks. My younger daughter (who took a long, long time to start chewing solid food) loved this dish, and we still love to make it on winter nights.

The ‘taste training’ element is in the dressing: the sweetness of the maple syrup and the acidity of the orange offsets the hint of sage—which pairs wonderfully with the squash.

As with the recipe for Butternut Squash Puree (above), I’ve calculated adult servings, as I am assuming you will want to enjoy this yummy dish along with your child!

1 large butternut squash
¼ cup water
1 tbsp butter, plus a few extra dabs of butter for the squash once baked
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup orange juice
½ tsp cinnamon
tiny pinch of sage (dried) — just a pinch!
optional: 1 tsp kosher (or sea) salt, sprinkled over squash just before serving

Preheat oven to 350F.

1. Preparing the squash: Halve the squash lengthwise and remove the seeds and strings. Rub the insides with butter (or a vegetable oil, to stop the squash from burning). Place on baking dish (or roasting pan) with ¼ cup water, skin side down. Bake in preheated oven (350 degrees) for 30 to 40 minutes or until tender when pricked with a fork. Remove from oven, sprinkle with salt (optional) and allow to cool. Place additional (optional) dabs of butter inside to melt.

2. Making the dressing: In a small pot, combine maple syrup and orange juice, heating gently (low-medium heat) for about 5 minutes. When warm, add the cinnamon and sage. Reduce heat to low, and cook (stirring occasionally) for about 5 minutes. Bonus: this will make your kitchen smell wonderful!

Serve warm, with warm dressing drizzled over top (kids love to drizzle their own dressing!).

Yummy, healthy food for kids isn't fancy….but fun! How to re-think your approach to kids' meals, French style

 I am very excited, and honored, to be doing this guest post for Karen. Her work and crusade are so worthwhile. I am a French mom living in LA, raising a 19 months old son, and writing my FrenchFoodieBaby blog about our journey in educating his taste buds and making him a gourmet and healthy eater, the French way. And I’m here to debunk some of the myths and mystique behind French family cuisine, and try to show families that the French approach is much simpler than it seems.

The French way of eating, and their approach to educating children’s taste buds, has definite benefits (including the fact that kids actually enjoy eating vegetables, and have lower rates of obesity). So the next logical step would be for more people to implement and adapt those methods for their family. And a lot of families have indeed been inspired by it, as demonstrated by the great deal of interest in Karen’s book and work in general. But I have found in my interactions with a lot of moms and families mostly in the US, that there’s this ingrained belief that French food is fancy. I say “French-style cuisine” and a lot of people visualize intricate sophisticated dishes, hours laboring by the stove, expensive ingredients… all of which would make it quite impractical to most families, and wasted on young children. (Note that I talk about “French-style” cuisine or “French way of eating”, because I’m not so much talking about what the French eat and French cuisine per se, but how the French eat, the way they approach food and nutrition. You can adopt that approach with any type of international cuisine, and in fact, a lot of French families cook from a variety of cuisines from around the world.)

I started becoming more aware of those preconceptions about French cuisine when I started my son on solids when he was about 5 months old. I was following a Mommy & Me class which happened to be around lunch time, and started bringing my homemade baby purees to class. Soon came the era of finger foods, around eight months, and I started bringing a mini-version of a “4 course meal” for Pablo in class, basically a finger food as appetizer (hearts of palm, green beans, cauliflower, etc.), a homemade protein & vegetable puree, a kind of cheese, and a bit of fruit compote or yogurt for dessert. There I was, thinking I was doing nothing out of the ordinary. And one day, another mom commented on the “gourmet meals” I was making Pablo, and that he was the “best fed baby in LA.”

This same perspective a lot of North Americans have of French cuisine, shows up again when you start telling them what French kids are served for lunch in school. When I first told my husband we were served a sit-down hot four-course lunch, he just couldn’t believe it, rethinking with some nausea about the sloppy Joes, pizzas, stale spaghetti and overcooked burgers he ate in school.

Karen’s brilliant idea to post the menus from French school lunches on her blog, really shows some concrete examples of what goes on every day in French schools, and by extension, what they eat at home too.

I am often asked by busy moms browsing through Pablo’s menus, “How can you do these fancy meals for Pablo every night?” Well, I hate to kill the bubble and gourmet aura around French family cuisine, but I’m here to tell you that it’s just not that fancy. Well… it is, and it isn’t.

If by fancy, you mean that it tastes really good, then yes it’s the idea. If by fancy, you mean some thought and finesse has been put into the dishes that compose a meal, then absolutely. If by fancy, you mean that care was put into presentation and preparation, definitely. That approach is the cornerstone of the French view of food as a pleasurable, worthwhile, sharing experience.

However…
If by “fancy”, you mean I slaved by the stove all day to prepare them, well, that’s…

Myth #1 – French style meals take hours to prepare.

Most French moms work, and are definitely back at work by the time they start their babies on solids, so they can’t spend the whole day by the stove. I found that most family dishes we cook on a weekly basis require 20-25 minutes of preparation with some additional cooking time, during which other stuff can get done.
As Karen has mentioned, studies show that the French do spend on average 13 more minutes cooking per day than Americans, cooking on average for a total of 43 minutes per day. Feeding a family a fairly balanced diet with a wide variety foods, vegetables in particular, doesn’t require a lot more time, but it does require a bit of thinking and effort. I think the French think of “the education of taste” as an important parenting and family priority. They find a way to devote it a little bit of time and effort, because eating well as a family is of value to them, the same way they would devote time to homework, or getting their kids to practice the piano.  
Tip: It is mostly a matter of being a bit organized, by making a meal plan, having some cooked veggies or soup made ahead for the week, and planning on a balance of simple preparations (smoked salmon or canned sardines or a slice of ham, or pan-fried meat or fish, or crock pot recipes) to help keep busy nights stress-free. (If cooking is stress provoking, kids will pick up on it, and it will definitely put a dent on that food/pleasure association in their mind). It is also a matter of accepting to take a little extra time to do it. Trying to think of cooking not as a chore, but as an opportunity to slow down, be in the moment, and do something really good for our family.
If by fancy, you mean that French-style cooking uses hard to find, obscure ingredients for intricate dishes, that’s…

Myth #2 – French style meals are very complex and sophisticated

To the contrary, I would argue a lot of French family dishes shine by their simplicity, from chocolate mousse, with only a few ingredients, to mixed vegetable salads simply tossed together. Most French family recipes are not any more complicated (often less) than making chocolate chip cookies, muffins or pancakes.

One French secret is the way they name their dishes. It always sounds sophisticated. As Karen reported recently, Cornell researcher Brian Wiansick found that using attractive names for foods do make them more appealing. And to children especially. And if you peruse the French school lunch menus, you will see many “fancy” names for very simple dishes. For example, saying “Jardinière de légumes” sounds better than “mixed vegetables”, it gives the image of a garden where the vegetables grew. The French, known to take food very seriously, wouldn’t give foods silly names to get kids to eat them (not on the official school menu anyway), but even the restaurant-like names on those menus might just make the kids feel like they’re important enough to be served “fancy” dishes.
And the dishes also often look sophisticated, as care is definitely given to presentation, for children included. The French really consider that the aesthetics of food is key to children’s education of taste and appreciation of cuisine. All five senses are involved in the pleasure of eating.
Tip: I pick a lot of fairly simple recipes that make their ingredients shine. For that, it is important to choose good quality ingredients and fresh produce as much as possible.
Another secret is the use of herbs and certain condiments to add some subtle flavor to dishes. My mother can’t cook without thyme and bay leaves. Tarragon, parsley, basil for salads. These simple herbs are the “je-ne-sais-quoi” of French cooking.

 

If by fancy, you mean that it costs an arm and a leg, that’s…

Myth #3 – French meals are expensive

I guess that this is relative to every family’s budget, and certainly the price of food has gone up everywhere. But in our family, using seasonal produce, cooking with fresh (or frozen) foods and planning our menu has eliminated a lot of waste and saved us a lot of money. We’re not talking
truffle and lobster here, but peas, carrots and chicken.
Tip: Finding ways to cook with what we’ve got left in the fridge can lead to very creative recipes and fun meals. Also the advantage of cooking on a regular basis, is great money-saving leftovers. I’m pretty thrilled on an exhausted evening, to find we have leftover watercress soup, mustard pork tenderloin and sauteed apples and onions in the fridge…
In an attempt to illustrate my points here, I picked a lunch menu served last October in a French school in St Manvieu Norrey, Normandy, sharing the recipes with you here. It sounds really nice, but is actually very simple to make, with inexpensive ingredients, taking a reasonable amount of time to prepare (with the possibility of making some of it ahead.) And last but not least, it is really delicious, and offers a wide variety of vegetables in one meal. So why not try it?

 

Appetizer: Tomato mozzarella salad (not much of a recipe, just slice, drizzle with olive oil, add herbs and serve!)
Main course: Chicken cutlets with “sauce chasseur” (hunter’s sauce, cool name), with jardinière de légumes (this is a fancy name for gently sautéed vegetables)
Fromage blanc (rough equivalent here would be Greek yogurt)
Dessert: Wafer cookie (store bought)
(For a home meal, I would forgo the cookie, give a piece of cheese, and the Greek yogurt as dessert, sprinkled with a bit of sugar or a few berries.)

Chicken fillets with sauce “chasseur”

Serves 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time – 15 + 10 minutes
Age for babies: 10-12 months in small quantity, to give a taste of the sauce. The mushrooms make a good finger food.
Note that you can use this sauce with any poultry. You could also serve it with a cut up chicken, or a whole roasted chicken.
4 pieces of skinless chicken (either breast or thigh)
1 lb mushrooms, washed and sliced
6 tbsp of butter
4 shallots, peeled and minced
2 heaping tbsp flour
1/2 cup white wine (or white grape juice, or juice from canned mushrooms, if you want to go alcohol-free)
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp of tomato concentrate
1 bouquet garni (in a piece of hollow celery rib, put some thyme, parsley, sage, 1 or 2 bay leaves, cover with another piece of celery rib and tie with kitchen tie.)
Salt & pepper
5-6 sprigs of fresh chervil (if you can find it, I’ve had a hard time finding it in LA), stem removed, minced
5-6 sprigs of fresh tarragon, stem removed, minced
Cut the chicken in strips and set aside.
For the sauce:
In a saucepan, melt the butter and sauté the mushrooms. Add in the shallots, and cook for a few minutes.
Sprinkle flour, stir and let it get a bit of color.
Stir in the wine and broth. Add the tomato concentrate, bouquet garni, salt & pepper.
Stir and bring to a boil. Cover and let simmer over medium low for about 15 minutes.
At this point, you can keep warm, covered, on very low heat, while you cook the chicken.
In a frying pan, heat some olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the chicken strips until cooked. Salt & pepper to taste.
Before serving the sauce, remove the bouquet garni, and incorporate the minced chervil and tarragon.
Pour sauce over the meat and serve immediately!

Jardinière de légumes (Mixed vegetables)

Serves 4

Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 35-40 minutes

Age for babies: 8-10 months, the veggie pieces make great finger foods.

I use two magical ingredients here, which make the vegetables taste delicious and slightly sweet: the sprinkle of sugar, and the coconut oil (which is so good for you too). Kids usually love it.
You can add more vegetables or omit some, adjust quantities to your liking. This tastes really great reheated, so you can make a big batch, refrigerate and eat the next couple of days.

7-8 carrots, peeled, diced
7-8 mini turnips, peeled (or 1 or 2 medium, peeled and quartered)
15 small potatoes, peeled (fingerling type, or medium red potatoes, peeled and quartered)
2 handfuls of fresh green beans (or frozen)
2 handfuls of shelled fresh peas (or frozen)
6 pearl onions, peeled but left whole
2 garlic cloves, peeled but whole (optional)
Fresh thyme (leaves from 3 sprigs)
Bay leaf
Coconut oil
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp sugar
Salt & pepper

In a large pot, melt the butter & coconut oil over medium heat. Sprinkle with the sugar, stir a bit, and wait until the sugar has melted.

Then add carrots, turnips, potatoes, pearl onions, garlic, thyme and green beans. Add salt and pepper, stir and cook for about five minutes over medium heat, stirring once in a while.

Add 1/4 cup of water, and cook on low, letting the water evaporate, stirring from time to time, about 20 minutes.

Add another 1/4 cup of water and the peas, and let cook until the water is almost evaporated and vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. (There should be a little “sauce” in the bottom, a treat to soak it up with good bread!)

Bon appétit! And I’d love to hear your thoughts, if you do try these recipes and this multi-course meal!

Summer's here! Why not try a yummy 'French-style' dinner menu with your kids?

Thanks to all of the readers who have written in with enthusiastic comments on the French Kids School Lunch Project, which is now wrapped up for the year. Many people requested recipes, so I thought I’d kick off this summer’s blog posts with a yummy French kids’ dinner menu, based on some favourite family recipes.

As is usual with French meals, the meal follows a four-course pattern:

  1. Vegetable starter
  2. Protein-rich main dish, with vegetable side
  3. Dairy (Your choice, but usually yogurt or cheese)
  4. Dessert (usually fresh fruit, but I’ve included a recipe for a sweet treat below!)
Always on the table: water (no milk, juice, or pop); and plain, crusty, fresh baguette (not too many pieces! as you don’t want the kids to fill up on bread) 

Based on these four courses, here is the yummy French-Style Menu to try with your kids (note: each recipe is listed on a separate page, but I have provided a consolidated shopping list at the bottom of this post):

  1. Starter: Beet Salad (bonus: you can make beet popsicles afterwards)
  2. Main: Tomates Farcies (stuffed tomatoes) and Cauliflower Casserole
  3. Plain yogurt with a spoonful of honey
  4. Cherry Clafoutis (Sweet Cherry Souffle)

Note: Why do the French serve their meals in multiple courses? For several reasons:

  • serving vegetables first means that kids are more likely to eat them (particularly if they haven’t snacked right before mealtime);
  • serving smaller portions, in multiple courses, makes the meal last longer–which is an important strategy for self-regulating food consumption. Research shows that people tend to eat less if they eat more slowly, because the ‘satiety’ (fullness) signals take about 20 minutes to be transmitted from your stomach to your brain;
  • multiple courses permit a diverse meal which is nutritionally complete (no filling up on pasta!)
  • last, but not least, the French enjoy sitting at the table and eating. It’s a fun time for parents and kids alike.

Two more tips!

First, pre-meal preparation is important! The French usually set the table with a tablecloth, and make sure to have napkins on the table. Seems a little fussy, but it actually works wonders with children, as it makes the table seem more festive (and thus fun). Also, kids are less likely to eat messily, for fear of making a mess on the tablecloth (at least, that’s the theory!). So pull out any table decorations you might have, and gussy up the table. In fact, kids love setting the table — it’s a fun activity they can do while you’re cooking.

Second, talk about food–before, during, and after the meal! The French love to talk about food. So discuss this menu with your kids in advance. Older ones can help cook, and why not get the younger ones to draw one of the dishes? Talking about food helps kids familiarize themselves with dishes, and get over their reluctance to taste new things.

Bon Appétit!

 

Recipe of the week: Cherry Clafoutis (Sweet Cherry Soufflé)

After a bit of a hiatus, I’ll be blogging with weekly favourite recipes this summer. Look out for book give-aways and fun competitions as well!

Clafoutis (Sweet Cherry Soufflé)

Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 30 to 40 minutes
Servings: 6 generous pieces

Clafoutis is a version of the French flan that is traditionally made with cherries (or other moist fruit such as plums, prunes, raspberries, or blackberries), enveloped by a simple cake batter. The fruit is polka- dotted in the cake, giving it a playful look that children love. Even the name is fun to say: kla-foo-TEE. Traditionally, this dish is cooked with the pits left inside the cherries (purists believe that this intensifies the flavor of the dish). I pit the cherries (or, when I’m in a rush, use small plums instead, which are easier to pit).

Our source for the cherries is an old tree at Philippe’s aunt’s house. Tante Odette’s tree is the most productive I’ve ever encountered; the branches, weighed down with cherries, hang down almost to the ground. In late June and early July, the extended family is mobilized for cherry picking, cherry jam making, and (of course) cherry eating. Clafoutis is my daughters’ favorite recipe from this time of year.

2 cups pitted cherries or plums (or other moist fruit)
1/3 cup granulated sugar

1⁄2 cup flour

Pinch of salt
3 eggs
11⁄4 cups milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar (or brown sugar—I like muscovado)

1. Place the fruit in a bowl with half the granulated sugar, stir well, and set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 ̊F. Grease a 9-inch baking dish.

3. In a large bowl, sift the flour with the salt and remaining sugar. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs and milk to combine. Add the va- nilla. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and combine well. Spread the fruit evenly in the baking dish and pour the batter on top. The cherries may float to the surface now (or later, during baking).

4. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the top is firm and golden brown. Cool, then sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar. Serve immediately (but make sure the inside isn’t too hot for kids’ tender tongues!).

Note: Julia Child recommends baking this twice (briefly baking a thin layer in the bottom of the dish, then adding the fruit topped with the remaining batter and baking until done). But the French parents I know use this “express” method, with wonderful results!

Tip: Serve the clafoutis in the baking dish, as it is quite “wobbly” and won’t transfer well. Fresh out of the oven, the cake is puffed up and golden. It will settle and sag a little bit, but that’s exactly what it is supposed to do.

Tomates Farcies (Savory Stuffed Tomatoes)

This is one of our family’s favourite recipes (and a sneak preview from my new book!).

It’s a French kids’ classic, and actually sums up a lot about the French approach to kids’ food: elegant yet edible, beautifully presented, easy and quick to make. Tomates farcies (stuffed tomatoes) are both filling and fun. The tomatoes are hollowed out and stuffed (in this case, with a savory ground beef mixture), and then baked to perfection. The farce peeks out of the tomatoes in acoquettish sort of way, and children love lifting up the tomato “hats” to see what lies underneath. Served with something that can absorb the delicious juices (rice and couscous are our favorites), this is a complete and easy tasty meal.

Tomates Farcies

Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 20 minutes (but make sure to preheat that oven!)
Servings: 4 small adult (or older child) servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1/2 pound ground beef
4 large tomatoes
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Optional: 1 minced red or yellow pepper, 2 teaspoons dried parsley and/or oregano, salt, pepper

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 375 ̊F (200 degrees C).

2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the onion and sauté until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, quickly add the ground beef (to “seize” the meat), stir vigorously for 1 minute, and lower the heat to medium-low. Simmer the meat until thoroughly cooked, about 6 to 8 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the tomatoes: slice off the tops and set them aside, then hollow out the insides of the tomatoes with a small spoon, removing the flesh and pulp to a bowl. (The result will look like little bowls.) Turn the tomatoes upside down on a plate to allow the juices to drain. Chop the tomato insides and add them to the simmering beef mixture. (Optional: add diced red or yellow pepper along with the tomatoes.)

4. Combine the breadcrumbs, herbs, and spices in a mixing bowl. (I use a little parsley and oregano, salt and pepper, but my sister-in- law uses paprika. Get creative!)

5. Add the breadcrumb mixture to the meat in the skillet and stir thoroughly. Spoon the resulting mixture (the “farce”) into the tomato “bowls.” Sprinkle with Parmesan. Put the tops back on the tomatoes like little “hats.”

6. Place the tomatoes in a baking dish, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they are deliciously melt-in-your-month (fondant). Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Bon Appétit!